Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Little One

Photo/Daniel Winters

James Comtois is a fanboy when it comes to comics, horror, and film, and not a play from his company, Nosedive, goes by that doesn't have some mixture of the three. The same goes for his long time co-artistic director, Pete Boisvert (a fan of the well-placed blood packet), who has by now mastered the tricky feat of staging parallel scenes, working in fight choreography (courtesy of Qui Nguyen), and making the weirdest of scenes seem just normal enough that they still have bite. However, their own desires sometimes get in their own way, leading to gratuitously empty scenes and bloated scripts that could use a great deal of editing. Comtois is at his best when he's creating his own rules or stretching classic scenarios to balls-out extremes; respectful homage isn't always flattering.

Thankfully, The Little One--a modern vampire story--most often finds Comtois at his inventive best. Rather than dwell on the soppy forbidden romances of Twilight, the campy politics of True Blood, the supernatural action of Underworld, or the classic Gothic horror of Dracula, Comtois has crafted a creative character piece that embraces the otherness of vampires and the sense of isolation that immortality can bring (like a bloodier Tuck Everlasting). Cynthia (the formidable Becky Byers) learns this the hard way, because her creator, the sadistic Artemis (Ryan Andes), kills himself before she can be properly mentored. It falls to Artemis's all-business partner, Marie (a delightfully mature Rebecca Comtois), to show her how to "hunt" (in nightclubs, and with flashy, leg-baring dresses), and to the savage governor Gogol (a cockney Patrick Shearer, in a much appreciated to-the-hilt performance) to show her how to fight. By skipping ahead 350 years during intermission, Comtois is able to show how these two figures influence Cynthia--their "Little One"--as she struggles to figure out what sort of monster she wants to be.

It's not always clear, however, that the company knows what they want The Little One to be. Characters like the traditional Sergei (Christopher Yustin) and the cultured Flora (Stephanie Cox-Williams) are shoehorned into the first act, largely to serve as plot devices in the second. Ancillary characters like the weaselly Jeremy (Jeremy Goren) and Flora's partner, Francis (Stephen Heskett), lack even that purpose and make the story feel like a pulpy heist novel. The play is on far firmer--and richer--ground when it keeps things from Cynthia's point-of-view. From the moment she first realizes she's become athletically enhanced to her first encounter with the alien-looking humans (credit Betsy Strong's costumes and Leslie E. Hughes & Melissa Roth's make-up/masks), her world feels new and exciting. The finest part of the evening is a lengthy montage in which Cynthia attempts to return to her old life--boyfriend Kyle (Goren), mother Mrs. Walters (Cox-Williams), and best friend Michelle (Roth)--only to lose track of time and watch them die. (The choice of music, The Postal Service's "This Place Is A Prison," hints at the dolorous yet evocative atmosphere.)

There's good stuff in the second act, too: for instance, did you know that vampires wore white to funerals? Did you suspect that in the future, men would act more and more like Keanu Reeves? Best of all, did you realize that a four-hundred-year-old vampire would still be capable of acting like a spoiled, petulant child? All of these humanizing details help to bring closure to Cynthia's growth. The trouble lies more with the  momentum (quite a few scenes seem to echo or flat out repeat earlier scenes), which stems back to the lack of editing and the ever-shifting focus of the plot. The finale is frustrating--not because it isn't a fun resolution, but because it takes the easy, splashy way out.

In general, though, The Little One leaves audiences with more than enough to sink their teeth into. It would take a true monster--or someone with no tolerance for vampires and genre theater--to spit an otherwise succulent show out on account of a few dull bones and overcooked edges.

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